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|Tune in Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET on ABC to see Tina Thompson, Katie Smith and Lisa Leslie - the top three scorers in the history of the WNBA - on the floor at the same time.|
This game features a number of storylines to follow. 1) The Sparks and Shock have been predicted by the league's GMs to meet in the 2009 WNBA Finals. It’s not often you can get a possible Finals preview on opening day. 2) This is the first meeting since last July’s altercation that led to multiple suspensions. 3) This is the beginning of the Shock’s title defense and the beginning of the final WNBA season for Sparks' Lisa Leslie and Michael Cooper. 4) The Sparks will debut their new uniforms, featuring the Farmers Insurance Group logo, after announcing a multi-year marketing partnership on Friday.
Another intriguing storyline is that this will be the first game featuring all three members of the WNBA 5,000 point club – Leslie (5,909 points), Tina Thompson (5,424) and Katie Smith (5,077). And while the top three scorers in the league will be on the floor Saturday, this game will also have some notable absences with L.A.’s Candace Parker still recovering from childbirth, Cheryl Ford still rehabilitating her knee following ACL surgery, and Kara Braxton serving a suspended.
While not all of the marquee names will be in uniform Saturday, you can always expect a competitive game whenever Bill Laimbeer and Cooper face off against each other. And, if all goes according to predictions, these teams could meet up at full strength in October.
The Monarchs and Storm begin a home-and-home, back-to-back set on Saturday in Sacramento and close it out the following night back at KeyArena in Seattle. This matchup pits two perennial playoff teams against each other, with Sacramento qualifying for the postseason in each of the last six years and Seattle right behind them at five straight playoff appearances.
Neither team made drastic changes to their respective roster during the offseason. In Seattle, their main goal was to keep the roster they had in 2008 intact and they did so – for the most part – by re-signing Lauren Jackson, Tanisha Wright and Janell Burse and adding complimentary pieces like Shannon Johnson, Suzy Batkovic-Brown and first round draft pick Ashley Walker to the lineup.
The Monarchs also stayed the course when it came to offseason moves – or lack thereof. The biggest addition to the lineup is rookie Courtney Paris, who fell to the Monarchs at the No. 7 pick in the 2009 WNBA Draft. Paris’ role is still a bit of an unknown as the Monarchs feature a good mix of young players (Laura Harper and Crystal Kelly) and veterans (Rebekkah Brunson and DeMya Walker) on its frontline. While they have an assortment of post players to work with, the Monarchs do not have anyone to match up with Jackson, who can play inside and out with equal effectiveness.
The revamped Mystics open the season with a solid test – facing an Eastern Conference playoff team on the road. The Mystics made some major changes in the offseason with a new GM (Angela Taylor), new head coach (Julie Plank) and a new point guard (Lindsey Harding). Harding joins former college teammates Alana Beard and Monique Currie in the starting five, which should help her adjust to her new team. But how will she fare against the other Lindsay – as in Lindsay Whalen – when the two square off on Saturday.
Whalen is coming off of her best season as a pro in 2008, having finished as the runner up in the MVP voting to Parker. An unfortunate ankle injury near the end of the season hampered Whalen during the playoffs, which helped lead the Sun to an early exit from the postseason. Whalen will once again have forward Asjha Jones – Connecticut’s leading scorer in 2008 – as her top post threat, but will be without backcourt mate Amber Holt, who suffered a broken hand during the preseason. How much will Holt’s absence on both the offensive and defensive end hurt Connecticut against the likes of Beard and Matee Ajavon of Washington?
Chamique Holdsclaw makes her return to the WNBA on Saturday when she laces them up in front of the home crowd in Atlanta as they host the Fever. After winning just four games in their inaugural season, the Dream went out and overhauled nearly their entire roster – only four players remain from a year ago. In addition to bringing Holdsclaw out of retirement, the Dream also added former Comets bigs Michelle Snow and Sancho Lyttle as well as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 WNBA Draft with Angel McCoughtry.
Indiana did not make nearly as much roster changes during the offseason, but did bring in a pair of veterans – Yolanda Griffith and Tamecka Dixon – to help bolster their lineup. The Fever will once again rely heavily on the talents of Tamika Catchings, along with veterans Katie Douglas and Tammy Sutton-Brown. Meanwhile, rookie Briann January has looked promising at the point guard spot early on.
If the Dream can open the 2009 season with a win over the Fever – a playoff team in each of the past four years – that would make a strong statement that the Dream of 2008 are long gone.
Last year was supposed to be the year that the Chicago Sky broke out and climbed out from the lower seeds in the Eastern Conference and contended for a playoff spot. Those aspirations took a huge hit just five games into the season when Sylvia Fowles went down with a knee injury. In 2009, Fowles is back and healthy and with the additions of Kristi Toliver (draft), Erin Thorn and Chen Nan (free agency), the Sky have raised their expectations heading into season.
Minnesota is a team in flux at the moment as
Saturday’s matchup in the post pits former collegiate rivals Fowles (LSU) and Nicky Anosike (Tennessee) against each other once again. Anosike’s ability to slow down Fowles down low will be paramount for the Lynx to have success on opening day.
The last two Western Conference champions meet up in our final game of the night. The Silver Stars begin their quest to defend their Western Conference crown and get back to the WNBA Finals for another chance at an elusive championship. The Mercury have lifted the WNBA championship trophy already, but after missing the playoffs a year ago, Diana Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter and rest of the squad are itching to get back to the championship form they displayed in 2007.
San Antonio’s roster remains similar to last season when they finished with the league’s best record (24-10). On the other hand, the Mercury have added a few pieces, including point guard Temeka Johnson, post Nicole Ohlde (who will not play on Saturday due to injury) and rookie DeWanna Bonner. While they were unable to land free agent Lauren Jackson, the Mercury still field a talented squad, giving second-year head coach Corey Gaines plenty of options in his run and gun style.
Last season, San Antonio’s defense ranked second in points allowed, giving up an average of just 71.1 per game. The Mercury have led the league in scoring the past three seasons and averaged 88.5 points per game in 2008. The Silver Stars will miss the services of